I’ve been feeling a little distracted this holiday season. Maybe a little stressed. Maybe a little numb. I’m not feeling it like I want to feel it – not the tingle I sometimes get when I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing ‘Oh Holy Night’ or the warm and fuzzy feeling of snuggling under ten blankets to watch old Christmas specials.
Am I feeling grinchy? Not exactly, but I’m not filled with Christmas cheer either. I’m just blah, and as we’ve explained in past posts, feeling nothing actually feels pretty bad.
Honestly, I feel guilty about feeling blah this time of year. I feel bad that I haven’t lived every holiday moment to the fullest, and I feel sad to let one of my favorite times of year pass me by. And, more than anything, I feel ashamed that I haven’t given my kids the best holiday season ever! Because every holiday season needs to be the best one ever!
I’ve never associated the holiday season with feelings of guilt in the past. Some of you may be surprised to hear this because you always feel guilt around the holidays. Or, your grief has caused feelings of holiday guilt because of the following:
“I feel bad that…”
- …I can’t afford to buy as many gifts as in the past
- …I can’t muster up the energy to do this holiday activity or that
- …I can’t bring myself to carry on a certain tradition
- …I can’t stop crying
- …I’m feeling too raw to do anything meaningful in honor of my loved one
- …I don’t want to send holiday cards
- …I’m not up for the holiday parties
- …I can’t listen to holiday music
- …I feel like skipping the holiday season altogether
And the list goes on. Turns out, guilt, shame, self-on-self disappointment – they are part and parcel of experiencing grief during the holiday season.
As I’ve established, I’m a prime offender, so I won’t tell you not to feel guilty. However, I will propose a few hypothetical reasons why you should cut yourself some slack.
First, you ought to give yourself a break.
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it a hundred more times – if you’re grieving and still getting out of bed, putting on clothes, showering occasionally, and eating, then you’re doing something. You’re coping with whatever primary loss you experienced and then all the secondary losses that followed. This is stressful and takes a lot out of you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Second, there’s no reason to compare.
I realize you may be feeling pressured by the ghost of holidays past to be the same as you were before the loss, but it’s really not fair to compare yourself to this person because things have changed. It’s also not fair to compare yourself to other people who seem to be having a splendid holiday. First of all, who knows what’s really going on with anyone else regardless of how picture perfect their holiday card appears. Second, many others haven’t faced the same kinds of challenges that you have this year and aren’t dealing with grief during the holiday season.
Third, you’re not a Grinch simply because you’re not that into it.
As we wrote in our post defending the “holiday villain”:
“I’m sure there are a handful of holiday villains who are truly cold at heart, but more than likely the disheveled woman standing in the corner at the office holiday party is not; nor is the friend who does not want to participate in the Secret Santa Gift Exchange or the child who doesn’t enthusiastically shout-sing Jingle Bells at the holiday recital. Give these people the benefit of the doubt before you typecast them as bad because there’s a good chance they’re good people who’ve had a bad year.
Fourth, people probably aren’t as disappointed in you as you think.
People often tell themselves stories about who they are and how they relate to others. Sometimes these stories are accurate and sometimes they are based on subjective assumptions. So, a person may tell themselves things like:
“I’m no fun, everyone is watching me, I’m not wanted here, this was a pity invite, I’m a third wheel, people are disappointed in me, people don’t care, I have no one, etc”
Though I’m sure there are times when these things are true, there are also times when these thoughts are exaggerations or manifestations of a person’s internal fears and anxieties. So, if you find yourself thinking this way, we encourage you to really stop and ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support this belief? How do I know it’s true?”
Fifth, there will be another holiday season next year.
Here’s the thing about the holidays – and you can look at this as good news or bad – they happen every year. I know it might not seem this way right now, but you are not sentenced to a life of bad holiday seasons.
So please, take this holiday season for what it is – one bad, sad, disappointing holiday season. If you skipped an important tradition and it made you sad, if you skipped the holidays altogether, if you wish you had done more to honor and remember your loved one, or whatever other disappointment or guilty thought your grappling with – remember that next year you can take small steps (or big steps if you prefer) to do things differently.
If you are struggling with grief during the holiday season, we want to remind you that we have a free mini-ecourse on managing grief on holidays and special days. If you try this course, I encourage you to pay special attention to the section on holiday values. Holiday values are important because people have a tendency to feel bad about all the ‘what’s’ that have to change after a person’s death, however, if you can focus on the ‘whys’ (the values and meaning behind what you do) you often see that there are still ways to connect with what matters despite everything that has changed.